Lawmakers Say Iran Unlikely to
Address Suspicions of Secret Weapons Program
U.S. administration says full disclosure about program’s history
isn’t critical to verify future commitments
By Jay Solomon
July 26, 2015
administration assessment of the Iran
nuclear deal provided to Congress has led a number of lawmakers to conclude
the U.S. and world powers will never get to the bottom of the country’s
alleged efforts to build an atomic weapon, and that Tehran won’t be pressed to
fully explain its past.
In a report to
Capitol Hill last week, the administration said it was unlikely Iran would admit
to having pursued a covert nuclear weapons program, and that such an
acknowledgment wasn’t critical to verifying Iranian commitments in the future.
Details of the
report, which haven’t been previously disclosed, indicate the deal reached
this month could go ahead even if United Nations inspectors never ascertain
conclusively whether Iran pursued a nuclear weapons program—something Tehran
has repeatedly denied.
The issue of
Iran accounting for its alleged past work has emerged as a flash point in the
debate between Congress and the White House over the July 14 agreement.
Lawmakers initiated a two-month review of the accord last week, and many have
demanded answers about Iran’s nuclear weapons history.
deal, Tehran is required by mid-October to give U.N. inspectors access to
Iranian scientists, military sites and documents allegedly tied to a covert
nuclear-weapons program to have international sanctions repealed. Iran has
balked at such requirements in the past.
lawmakers and outside nuclear experts are skeptical the U.N. nuclear
watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, will be able to conclusively
determine in two months an investigation it has failed to resolve in more than a
The IAEA is
required to publish a report by year-end on Iran’s alleged past military work
as part of the deal.
agreement between the IAEA and Tehran spells out how the U.N. agency will
complete the probe. But U.S. lawmakers have bristled in recent days over the
complained last week that they were told by administration officials that Iran
would be allowed to manage some of the IAEA’s investigation. They said they
were told Tehran would conduct its own soil sampling at a military site called
Parchin, where, allegedly, explosive devices were tested.
going to trust Iran to do their own testing? This is absolutely ludicrous,”
Sen. James Risch (R., Idaho) told Obama administration officials at a
congressional hearing last week.
Menendez (D., N.J.) said: “Chain of custody means nothing if, at the very
beginning, what you’re given is chosen and derived by the perpetrator.…If that is true, it would be the
equivalent of the fox guarding the chicken coop.”
U.S. and IAEA
officials have declined to detail the terms governing the agency’s
investigation into Iran’s alleged past military work. The IAEA said it was
standard practice for such agreements to be kept confidential.
arrangements meet the requirements of the IAEA for the clarification of
outstanding issues,” said an IAEA spokesman in Vienna.
administration presented its assessment to lawmakers July 19 in a package of
documents required by Congress to help vet the Iran accord.
included classified and unclassified sections on the verification process that
will be used to ensure Iran is abiding by the agreement. The package also
includes a section on Iran’s future nuclear research and development plans.
alleged past weapons work, the Obama administration said it concluded: “An
Iranian admission of its past nuclear weapons program is unlikely and is not
necessary for purposes of verifying…commitments
going forward,” said a copy
of the assessment viewed by The Wall Street Journal.
confidence on this front is based in large part on what we believe we already
know about Iran’s past activities,” the report said. “The United States
has shared with the IAEA the relevant information, and crafted specific…measures that will enable
inspectors to establish confidence that previously reported Iranian [weaponization]
activities are not ongoing.”
A senior U.S.
official said Sunday the IAEA had already concluded most of its probe into
Iran’s alleged weaponization work and that the recently concluded deal in
Vienna gives the agency more leverage to complete it. The official added the
U.S. intelligence community long ago concluded Tehran had a nuclear-weapons
program up until 2003, and that “an admission of what Iran did in the past is
scientifically not needed to evaluate Iran’s compliance with the [agreement]
in the future.”
Iran and the
IAEA, which have been in a decadelong standoff over Tehran’s suspected arms
work, forged an agreement this month to address the weaponization issue. It
included demands that Tehran provide access to sites, scientists and documents
it repeatedly refused to allow in the past.
IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano something of a wild card in the Obama
administration’s efforts to formalize the Iran deal and gain congressional
approval by year-end, diplomats and nuclear experts said.
U.S. and IAEA
officials have said the process will be credible and that sanctions on Tehran
won’t be lifted if the country doesn’t cooperate in the probe. But outside
analysts said the political pressure on Mr. Amano and the IAEA to resolve the
weaponization issue was immense, given that the broader Iran deal is contingent
on how it is addressed.
officials in recent days have disputed the U.S. position that sanctions can be
lifted only after the issue is addressed.
Salehi, chief of the Atomic Energy Agency of Iran, told state media last week
that the IAEA’s investigation was independent of the broader deal.
nuclear experts said understanding Iran’s past nuclear work was critical to
verifying the new agreement because it establishes a baseline for what Tehran
has done in the past.
intelligence officials have questioned White House claims that it already knows
enough about Iran’s overall program to ensure the Vienna agreement is properly
They said the
U.S. and IAEA initially failed to detect major advances in Iran’s nuclear
program, such as the construction of a uranium enrichment facility in the city
of Natanz and a heavy water reactor in Arak.
course, do not have total knowledge of how much progress the Iranians had
made,” the former head of the Central Intelligence Agency, retired Gen.
Michael Hayden, told a recent congressional hearing. “I know of no American
intelligence officer who could claim that we have absolute knowledge of the
Iranian weaponization program.”
administration said the Iran deal provided the best opportunity to resolve the
weaponization issue. Enhanced access by the IAEA into Iran’s nuclear program
also will make it much easier for the agency to detect any cheating, the
A senior U.S. official said the U.S. intelligence community long ago concluded Tehran had a nuclear-weapons program up until 2003. An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated Tehran had the program up until 2013. (July 26, 2015)